Red mites are a very common poultry nuisance appearing each season usually in the warmer summer months. They eventually come to all poultry lovers and test our tenacity and chook keeping sanity!
Red mites can reproduce rapidly so a few under the perch one day can turn into an infestation the next if not monitored and exterminated quickly. Surprisingly mites do not live on the birds but rather in the chook housing particularly under perches and in nesting boxes. They hide during the day and become active at night crawling onto the birds and sucking their blood. Little Vampires! Heavy mite infestations in poultry can lead to high levels of stress amongst birds and can result in anaemia, reduced egg production and, eventually if not treated, death, so being vigilant about coop health is key. Early detection is better than no detection, but the best weapon is knowledge and working to eliminating them before they ever get a leg hold!
We recommend regular dusting with Appletons De-Mite Powder to keep perches and nesting boxes MITE FREE and if this becomes part of a regular weekly routine then mites should never become an issue. However, if detection goes unnoticed, for example if you do not know what you are looking for or your life is just super busy… then before you know it your birds could start to look lethargic, pale and ruffled. Possibly drop off in egg production and ultimately move themselves out of the hen house. You might not even realise at this stage until you reach into collect the eggs one perfect day and ………eeeck! Horror! You have hundreds of little nasty crawling things running all over your arms. What you might also notice is little dark blood spots on the eggs. If you are at this stage then you will need to reach for the more powerful treatments to eliminate these little blood suckers from your hen house, your chooks and your life!
So let’s have a look at this tiny parasite and understand a bit more about what it is, its lifecycle and how it reproduces so fast and causes our beloved chooks to suffer silently.
The chicken mite (Dermanyssus gallinae) are not breed specific and can be found on any bird. These mites are easily seen once they have had a blood meal (hence their name) and some of us might need to put our glasses on to see them! Red mites have been known to transmit diseases such as Fowl Cholera, Newcastle Disease, Fowl Typhoid and Salmonella as well as causing dermatitis and mange. They are transmitted to poultry from rodents and wild birds. So working on good pest control in your poultry area is key. Eliminating rats, mice and sparrows will go a long way to keeping your hen house mite free. Unlike the northern fowl mite, red mites only spend part of their lives on their poultry hosts. They live in cracks and crevices in the poultry housing and move onto roosting birds at night to feed. Red mites can survive away from poultry for four or more weeks and they can also infest humans (don’t panic!) They can survive for several months without a feed and have been known to lie dormant for years. When hidden in cracks, they are very resistant to desiccation – so cleaning out and leaving a house empty will not prevent mites reappearing when birds are reintroduced. Mites can be carried by wild birds and prevailing winds, so can appear even when there has been no previous evidence of infestation. What your hen house is constructed of goes a long way to controlling mite numbers. Smooth, flat surfaces go a long way to reducing population numbers. Avoid coops and houses built out of rough sawn, unfinished timbers, especially tongue and groove styled timbers. Smooth, easy to clean surfaces like plastic are great to keep clean and go a long way to making it easier to keep on top of mites.
Mites feed mainly on the blood of birds, but also on feathers, skin or scales; each blood feed can take up to a couple of hours after which the mites will leave the birds and return to hide in cracks and crevices in the poultry housing. Here they lay their eggs, returning to the birds again the following night. Mites are usually very active at night and once birds have settled down on perches for the night the mites are out. The birds become easy targets as cannot leave the comfort or safety of the perch in the dark for fear of injury (they are not nocturnal.) Once on the perch/es or huddling on the floor (or the nest boxes) the mites have a field day and crawl out to feast on the unsuspecting birds.
The tiny mites vary in appearance, depending on when they last fed and at what stage they are in their lifecycle. The have a five stage life cycle starting with the egg and finishing as an adult within just 5 to 7 days.
LIFE CYCLE: Egg → Larva → Protonymph → Deutonymph → Adult
Between 12 and 24 hours of her first blood meal a fertilized female can lay a batch of 3 to 7 eggs in the poultry house. The eggs hatch in two to three days and the larva which do not feed, moults in a further day or so. The protonymph needs and takes a blood meal. It then moults to a deutonymph, which does not feed. The deutonymph moults to an adult stage in a couple of days. Under ideal conditions the life cycle can be completed in a week or so but, if conditions are not ideal, both the feeding stages can survive several weeks before taking a blood meal. A mite is only red when it has had a fresh blood feed. Over time it darkens and goes black before it changes colour again through black to grey as the interval between feeds lengthen. When checking housing for mite evidence mites can appear in a range of these colours and in size from tiny to bigger breeding adults. A tell-tale ‘grey residue’ around crevices is evidence of mite faeces, this can be seen during the day. But the best time to examine a house is at night when the mites can often be seen with the aid of a torch, both on and off the bird. If looking during the day a coop or house can appear mite free to the untrained eye.
There are different control treatments available but all involve thoroughly cleaning and treating the hen house often with follow up treatment/s. Getting the upper hand with a severe red mite infestation requires persistence and attention to detail, and it may involve using more than one approach. Any control programme needs to pay attention to the following:
1. Operator hygiene and suitable protective clothing to prevent the spread of mite between sites.
2. Sealing up of as many joints and crevices as possible, to reduce the number of areas which harbour mite
3. Efficient disposal of mite-infested litter and debris, to prevent re-infestation
4. Study the red mite life cycle – repeat treatment needs to be undertaken within seven days to maximise the effect and ‘catch’ the largest possible number of mite.
5. Constant vigilance and prompt treatment of any hotspots.
6. Use of a poultry tonic or vitamin supplement to help the birds recover and increase their resistance to re-infection.
7. Invest in an Omlet Chicken Coop for easy care maintenance.
Here at Appletons we recommend the use of Appletons Poultry Safeguard together with Appletons De-Mite Powder for the treatment of Red Mites. Appletons Poultry SAFEguard is a powerful disinfectant, killing bacteria, viruses and odour in coops and it dissolves any mites it comes into contact with. Smite Professional and Poultry Shield are also available in-store and on-line for similar results. Appletons De-Mite Powder works brilliantly for residual red mite control and works hand in hand with the Poultry Safeguard to do a great job in keeping the red mite population under control. Best to remove all bedding and then spray all surfaces, nooks and crannies, basically soaking the surfaces of the coop. Do not pre-water blast your coop. For best results apply directly to undisturbed, dry timber in hen house. Make sure the perch is removable to reach all hiding places. Soak all surfaces, let house air dry and then dust perches and nesting boxes with Appletons De-Mite Powder. Do not forget to wash and clean your poultry feeder if kept in the hen house as this too will most likely be covered in mites. Now place fresh wood shavings in house and nest boxes. Use sparingly as this procedure will be repeat again in 5 to 7 days. For severe outbreaks repeat at least 3 times and then follow up weekly with the Appletons De-Mite Powder.
For the odd mite that hangs onto your bird you can offer relief via a dust bowl. Either a natural dirt bowl in their pen or area or a large tray filled with dry dirt, sand and ash. This will give your chooks the ideal opportunity to maintain good health and help build good flock socialising skills. For double measure birds can be drenched or dusted with Appletons De-Mite Powder. We find dealing to the source of the problem, the hen house, usually resolves the infestation and makes the chooks mite free and happy. Mite Rescue Remedy by Agrivite is an excellent all round suppliment to help birds bounce back after been exposed to a red mite infestation.